MILTON — Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole wants the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to take more action in keeping bears away from people. The Board of County Commissioners Thursday moved to send a strongly worded letter to the FWC insisting on more effective solutions.
He brought the issue to the board after his wife found a bear in their garage eating dog food.
“A lot of things don’t quite hit you in the face as hard as when it happens to you, yourself,” Cole said, “and when my wife told me a black bear had been in our garage yesterday eating dog food and I think about the conclusion that could have happened if she…or my granddaughter had come in and walked up to that bear, it doesn’t sit well with me.”
Commission Chairman Rob Williamson supported the letter, saying the problem is a concern for residents of Navarre as well as those in District 5.
Last October, the board passed a BearWise Safety Ordinance to help prevent human-bear conflicts, saying all county residents in unincorporated areas south and west of Eglin Air Force Base must keep their garbage secure from bears and other wildlife, either through the use of a bear-resistant can or by storing garbage in an enclosed area until 6 a.m of the day of collection.
The ordinance was a means for the county to apply for state funding for bear-resistant trash cans.
“Telling us that we’ve got to put better locks on our trash cans (and) telling us that we have to rattle pots and pans or put up better fences is not an answer,” Cole said. “It’s a [bandage] on something that’s getting worse and worse and it’s up to our state government to deal with it.”
Commissioner Sam Parker supported the letter, hoping it will lead to expanded bear hunting. However, the FWC in April agreed not to hold a bear hunt for at least two years as it believes public support for a hunt isn’t as high as desired due to the 2015 hunt.
That year, hunters reached the bear quota in two days, killing 304 bears during the planned week-long hunt, prompting the FWC to cut it short.
The Florida black bear population has grown from 300 to 500 in the late 1970s up to last year’s number of 4,050.
Wildlife commissioners in April said science the FWC collected supports a hunt but they want to work on non-lethal bear management practices considering the lack of public support for hunting bears.
A survey the FWC cited showed a 70 percent support for general hunting but only 48 percent for bear hunting.
Wilber Courtney of Milton, addressing the board, said he found a bear in his tree.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh, look at the cute bear.’ Why don’t they come get this bear out of my yard and put it in theirs?” he said. “They’ll think how cute he is.”